by George Brown
My Sarum story begins in November 1999 when I was visiting England with my family. On our way from London to spend a few days with friends in Devon, we made a quick stop in Salisbury. I wanted my family to see what Bill Bryson, the travel writer, has called “the single most beautiful structure in England, and the Close around it the most beautiful space.”
We entered the cathedral and a guide asked if we wanted to have the full tour. I replied that we had time for just a quick look around. With a nice smile, she replied, “such a pity.” I felt as though I had been scolded by my grandmother! What a mistake I was making – this wasn’t a monument to breeze in and out of, it was a living institution with an 800-year history. It deserved much more than a quick “look around,” and I made a pledge to return to take the full tour.
My chance came just a few months later. From my home in Atlanta, Georgia, I found a good airline price and decided to return to England, this time spending all my time in Salisbury. But where would I stay? I did some research and found a listing for Sarum College. The reviews were good, and the location within the Cathedral Close was perfect. From the moment of my arrival at Sarum, I knew I was in the right place. Here was a welcoming community adjacent to the Cathedral. A few hours after checking in, I attended my first Evensong service. I wasn’t familiar with the Evensong tradition, but I was captivated by the setting, the music, the prayers, and the realization that by being at that service, I was continuing a tradition that was 800 years old. Although an outsider, I felt very much at home.
Over the next four days I visited the cathedral frequently. I took the regular tour and the tower tour, climbing up stone steps into the spire. I attended Evensong daily, and with the help of new friends at Sarum, I began to gain an understanding of the history of the Cathedral and the life of the church today. Through shared meals with staff and other visitors from the UK and around the world, I quickly felt part of the Sarum community. And I became intrigued by its creative programs, ranging from theology and Bible study, to music, literature, and key social issues. I also enjoyed Salisbury…walking through the city, stopping at the pubs, and just being in England without having to rush to a different place each day. When I departed four days later, rather than checking this off my travel bucket list, I knew I would be returning. It has now been more than 20 years since my first time at Sarum, but I return as often as possible, most recently in December 2023. Part of the attraction is its proximity to the Cathedral, but it is more than that. When I walk through the door at 19 The Close, I become part of a unique community, if just for a few days.
Sarum and its connection to Salisbury Cathedral has become a continuing personal pilgrimage for me, one that I’m eager to share with others. I want more people to have the opportunity to discover what I have found: A unique space, within a beautiful place, with people dedicated to the mission of “learning to nourish the human spirit.”
In October 2022, I led a group of American seniors on a tour to England. We spent four days in Salisbury staying at Sarum. The members of my group were delighted with Sarum and when they would ask, “How did you find this great place?” I would always reply… “Well, let me tell you my Sarum story…”
George Brown is the retired president of Friendship Force International, a global cultural exchange program. He lives in Atlanta, Georgia USA and is a frequent visitor to the UK.